afrol News, 13 October - The traditional Morija Arts and Cultural Festival, held in Lesotho for the sixth time earlier this month, this time failed to recruit large numbers of Basotho spectators. While the common reason given is that the new alcohol ban at the festival prevented popular participation, authorities blame coinciding events and poor financing.
The sixth Morija Arts and Cultural Festival was held at the village of Morija, some 25 kilometres south of Maseru, over Lesotho's Independence Day long weekend earlier this month. While honoured by prominent guests such as the royal family, Basotho ministers and foreign representatives, few ordinary Basotho participated at the event.
The festival was hailed by Lesotho's authorities for "continuing to afford Basotho from all over the world opportunity to celebrate and take pride in their culture, their nationhood and oneness." It was further called "an occasion allowing citizens of the country to forget about past differences brought about by differing political outlooks, which had torn the country apart," according to a government statement.
Authorities in Maseru nevertheless admitted this year's event had been "somewhat subdued" due to the "low turnout." As recent art festivals in Morija had turned into major party in the evenings, were culture and art not always was in the centre of events, authorities this year decided to put a ban on the sale of alcoholic drinks at the festival's premises.
Popular opinion in Lesotho has it that this alcohol ban had caused ordinary people to avoid the festival this year. The first weekend of the month, when most people have received their salaries, typically is marked by high consume of alcohol in the mountain kingdom's many bars and discotheques. A "dry event" outside the capital thus didn't fit well into the plans of most Maseru dwellers.
Basotho authorities however maintain that other reasons were behind the low turnout at the Morija festival. This year, it was held at almost the same
King Letsie III and Queen Masenate at Morija Festival
time as the Mangaung Arts and Cultural Festival (MACUFE), a long time crowd puller. Lesotho's Queen, 'MaSenate Mohato Bereng Seeiso, closing the Morija festival on its last day, advanced yet another possible cause - a reduction in the sponsorship, which caused organisers to cut the celebrations down to three instead of the usual four days.
While the low turnout was deplored, Maseru authorities nevertheless hailed the festival's programme and organisation. Continuing the theme of the festivities since their launching six years ago, Lesotho's King Letsie III urged the Basotho to take a new oath to foster understanding, peace and love from within families, villages, work places and the country as a whole because "love and understanding are the foundations of peace and prosperity within a nation."
Lesotho's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Lebohang Nts’inyi, also paid tribute to the Morija festival as having established itself as the fount of education in the country. It was continuing along this tradition but this time "also promoting Basotho culture," she said.
The Queen further stated that the festival, in its role as the country's "cultural train", should also help the Basotho people to think about establishing an Arts Council to help drive the promotion of people's artistic creations both locally and internationally.
In addition to prominent guests from Lesotho, the festival had also drawn visitors from Zambia, Botswana as well as the MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture, Science and Technology of the Free State Province of South Africa. The festival also included dance performances of a group from Botswana.
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